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Stop Torturing People with Terrible Meetings

by Susan Dunn, The EQ Coach

Q: What do most employees hate the most about work?
A: The meetings.

Here are some ways to apply your emotional intelligence to running the kind of meetings people would actually like to attend.

1. Intentionality.
Intentionality is one of the highest-level emotional intelligence competencies because it means accepting responsibility for both your actions and your motives. Establish the purpose of the meeting. What is your intent? If it's sheer process, make that clear. If there's an agenda and things you intend to accomplish, establish that and then stick to it. Get honest with yourself. If you're having meetings because you think you should, but you don't like them either, stop doing it. If you're having them so you can get ego-strokes, rethink this annoying habit.

2. Leadership.
Running a meeting is not a committee affair. Someone needs to be in charge and use their Personal Power and Focus to keep things on track. A published agenda can be distributed ahead of time so people can prepare. Make sure all points are covered.

3. Authenticity.
One thing that irritates everyone is when the weekly staff meeting (for instance) becomes a platform for office games. Either it's about getting work done, strategizing, reporting, planning, and accomplishing something that couldn't be done better another way, or its about side conversations, politicking, put-downs, set-ups, back-slapping, power plays, impression management, manipulation, posturing, truth management and other horseplay.

4. Primal Leadership.
Which one of those points in #3 it is, depends upon the leader and the emotional tone she or he sets. It's human nature to test the limits. People will seek opportunity to upstage, divert, impress and maneuver instead of staying on task, and the first time the leader allows this to happen, the authenticity is gone. Say what you mean, mean what you say, and stick to it. You are being watched more closely than you think!

If you think a meeting can accomplish something no other form of communion can, set it up that way, and then show your commitment and enthusiasm. Your group will 'catch' it.

5. Respect for everyone. No exceptions.
This means respect for people's time, opinions, contributions and emotions. If the meeting is to start at 10:00, start it at 10:00. As soon as you wait for a "key player," #1, you are establishing the precedent that some people matter more than others (in which case why is everyone required to attend? You see, to lead, you must "make sense" to your followers), and #2, you have just given permission to everyone to wait until everyone else is there. You have punished the ones who are on time and rewarded the ones who are not. Was that your intent?

6. Constructive Discontent.
Being able to thoughtfully and respectfully handle disagreement is one of the strongest indicators of leadership. It means being able to stay calm, focused and emotionally grounded during conflict. The opposite of this is the tendency to rush to conclusions just to short circuit "arguments," or to flare up in emotional outbursts.

7. Creativity.
If you expect creative ideas, alternatives and solutions to appear, you have to create the atmosphere for this. I was in a meeting where the chairman asked for ideas. The first thing someone offered, he said "No!" This is not the way to encourage creativity. Establish a period of divergent processing where ideas are offered and simply considered. Then call an end to that and start the convergent process where you apply reality to the concepts and start to choose the ones most likely to work.

8. Know your bottom lines.
Prior to a meeting in which you'll be required to express a position, reflect on your thoughts, feelings and opinions. Zero in on the elements which are really fundamental and important to know. Again, know what you think but also why. If you are going to oppose something just because you hate the person who proposed it, know that. Be intentional.

9. Interpersonal Connections.
It's the leader's responsibility to manage the meeting in such a way that respect is shown to all. This means modeling flexibility about learning and communication styles, introverts and extraverts (don't condone letting extraverts dominate), left-brain v. right-brain, and authenticity.

10. Process afterwards.
It's a good idea, if you're serious about improving the quality of the meetings at your office (for which everyone will be grateful), to have someone you trust (an executive coach is a great choice here) attend and observe and then process with you afterwards. Did you accomplish what you set out to do? What was the emotional tone? Who had problems or was a problem, and what was that about? If you don't learn each time you have a meeting, you aren't doing your job. You are also modeling for your reports the concept that any notions of continual improvement and striving for excellence are only lip-talk.

(C) Susan Dunn, The EQ Coach, offers individual and executive coaching, EQ programs for offices, Internet courses and ebooks. Visit her on the web at and for FREE EQ ezine. Put EQ for subject line.

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